Rescue the perishing

Rescue the perishing

Missouri Baptists urged to pray, share Jesus at State Evangelism Conference

By Allen Palmeri
Staff Writer

February 8, 2005

SPRINGFIELD – Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) State Evangelism Director Bob Caldwell likes to talk about his simple, two-step program for the state: Pray and share Jesus.

The State Evangelism Conference Jan. 24-25 at Second Baptist Church, Springfield, was mostly about the first step.

Preachers helped show about a thousand Missouri Baptists how to live from their knees in the hope of creating a model for those 9,000 additional prayer warriors who did not come to the conference. That is the pathway toward revival and spiritual awakening in Missouri, Caldwell said.

On Monday afternoon, Caldwell began to cry right before he confessed that he has led fewer people to Christ in the last 19 months as state evangelism director than he had previously as an evangelist. He made a fresh commitment to his fellow Missouri Baptists to improve.

On Tuesday night, Caldwell sensed that the prayer emphasis he has been pushing was starting to take hold.

“I pray that this year we will be more desperate for Jesus than oxygen—than life,” he said.

The blend of such preachers as: Tom Elliff, pastor, First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, Okla., and a former two-time president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC); Rick Ousley, pastor, The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham, Ala.; Phil Hunter, pastor, West County Community Church, Wildwood; Sam Dyer, pastor, First Baptist Church, Heavener, Okla.; and Kenny Qualls, MBC associate executive director, was superb, according to Gerald Davidson, pastor, First Baptist Church, Arnold, and first vice president, SBC.

“This conference, I believe, is the greatest state evangelism conference that I have ever been in,” Davidson said. “It had great preachers, a great Spirit of God working, and great singers. Out of our Baptist headquarters, from (Executive Director) Dave Clippard on down, there is a desire to lift up God’s Word and preach Jesus Christ such as we’ve not had in years and years and years.”

Hunter, who served in the MBC evangelism department from 1984-1991, set the tone for the conference by preaching the first message on Matthew 5:3-10. Dropping to his knees several times to emphasize his points, Hunter told Missouri Baptists that “you cannot grow if you have a proud spirit.” He later explained that he had that spirit in 1974, when he and his wife, Roni, were having marital problems even as Hunter was being labeled “a success” in the ministry. He called it “spiritual bankruptcy.”

Hunter said that spiritual bankruptcy must always precede spiritual brokenness. Spiritual bankruptcy is when one realizes one is truly nothing apart from Christ (John 15:5). That was the foundational verse for the state evangelism conference, which Caldwell called a success.

“It was just such an incredible time,” he said. “It was like we saw a little of the mystery of God. God moved in such a powerful way.”

Elliff, president of the SBC in 1996 and 1997, preached twice.

His first message consisted mainly of anecdotes about his leading people to Christ.

“It ought to give people an advantage that you live in your neighborhood,” he said with a smile, teaching that a Christian praying over houses on his or her block is a powerful tool in the hands of God. He shared how he had the privilege of personally leading several of his neighbors to Christ.

His second message was on Hosea 10:12, which encourages Christians to break up the fallow, or hard, ground of their hearts.

“Why do we have fallow ground?” said Hunter as he followed Elliff into the pulpit. “Because of pride.”

Ousley talked about dying to self (John 12:24). In his first message, seven people joined him to illustrate various gifts of the Spirit—prophecy, teaching, mercy, encouragement, giving, leadership and serving. “That’s what a healthy church looks like,” he said.

In his second message, Ousley said that the Apostle Paul is an example of the type of dead man Jesus wants us to be. “The world didn’t have a hook in him,” Ousley explained. Affluency, adversity and apathy often trip us up as Americans, but not Paul.

“Die to the stinking desires of the flesh,” the Alabama preacher said.

Dyer connected with the country folks. His breakout session Tuesday morning required extra chairs to handle the overflow. Dyer introduced some of his staff members by way of illustrating the joy that exists in the congregation at First Heavener.

“In some of your eyes, we would be a charismatic church, because we’re happy,” Dyer said.

Qualls preached about Hell. “This is not a happy message,” he said. “This is a heavy message.”

He said he really did not want to deliver it, but the former pastor of Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield, obeyed God anyway as he exposited Luke 16:19-31.

Pondering the eternal destiny of the lost is a wonderful motivation to share Jesus, Qualls said. He prayed that the message would give Missouri Baptists a Holy Spirit push, which is what he said that evangelism conferences are all about.

Hunter was completely intuitive with the final message. He even told the other preachers that he had nothing formally prepared. He wound up preaching something he titled “No More Excuses.” His sermon had one point, Luke 12:48, where Jesus taught that to whom much is given, much is required. Hunter explained that the text simply came to him as he spoke his introduction.

Caldwell said it worked.

“As well as any man could have tied the knot, it was tied,” he said.

Romey Keith Davis, bi-vocational music minister and chairman of the deacons at First Baptist Church, King City, drove 5-1/2 hours with his wife, Cheryl, to attend the conference at Second Springfield for the second year.

 “I just love the testimonies,” he said. “I go back fired up.”

In addition to the preaching and testimonies, there was a wide variety of music presented. Joining MBC Worship Specialist Bill Shiflett on the platform were his wife, Kerri Shiflett, soprano, member, Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City; Diane Danks, alto, member, Noland Road Baptist Church, Kansas City; Todd Stearns, tenor, minister of music, First Baptist Church, Arnold; Jeff Bennett, piano, minister of music, Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Springfield; Larry Cox, bass, member, Osage Hills Baptist Church, Osage Beach; Brett Laxton, drums, student pastor, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Richland; J.P. Kwok, electric guitar, associate minister of music, Second Baptist Church, Springfield; and Brian Herzog, keyboard, Osage Hills Baptist Church, Osage Beach.

Other music was provided by the choir and orchestra of Second Baptist Church, Springfield, and by This Hope, a men’s group from Woodstock, Ga.

The preaching and the worship times both were memorable, Caldwell said, but the push that the state evangelism director felt from the conference mostly stemmed from seeing those prayer warriors on their knees.

“I just have a greater sense of urgency than I’ve ever had before,” Caldwell said. “I just believe time is short. We’ll never see this state reached for Christ until we have a God-given, peer-delivering burden for this state.”

Caldwell’s goal is to see a record 26,000 baptisms in Missouri in 2005. He said the previous record is 21,697 set in 1955. Davidson remembers that year quite well because that was when he and his wife, Verlena, got married. Two years later, Davidson was called to be a pastor, and he has been serving at First Arnold since 1976.

Davidson said he looks forward to more state evangelism conferences like this one, where one gets the feeling that many of the 1,030 registrants went home talking about it as the spiritual highlight of the year. The key to that becoming a reality, Caldwell said, is prayer. Elliff’s invitation Monday night, which saw hundreds of Missouri Baptists come forward as they pledged to win the lost to Christ, is an example of the type of standard that is being set.

“We’re on our knees, Father, because we want to be soul-winners,” Elliff prayed.